Art & Design

America’s Cool Modernism at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Article by Sarah Knox July 5, 2018
Visit America’s Cool Modernism at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Exploring the ‘cool’ in 20th century American art, the Ashmolean Museum’s current exhibition is the first of its kind. From the precisionist paintings of Charles Sheeler to copies of graphic magazine, Fortune, the exhibit brings together some of the country’s greatest interwar art. milk writer Sarah offers an insight into America’s Cool Modernism, which is open until 22 July 2018.

Think of the Roaring Twenties. A Gatsby-esque, art deco room filled with flapper dancers and flowing champagne springs to mind. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, however, showcases a totally different side of the Jazz Age in early 20th century America with their latest exhibition, America’s Cool Modernism.

In a Modern World

Within the exhibition, it is evident that the artists of America were not revelling in the American dream, like their fellow countrymen were at the time. The artists on show at the museum express the urban modern world around them in a detached and, in some cases, lonely manner.

The Ashmolean welcomes 35 works of art which have never-before been seen in the UK: a shocking revelation when you see their brilliance in the flesh. The exhibition includes a variety of paintings, photography and drawings as well an original copy of Fortune magazine which was committed to publishing graphics from American artists.

O’Keeffe to Hopper

Machinery (Abstract #2), 1933-34, Paul Kelpe

Machinery (Abstract #2), 1933-34, Paul Kelpe

Undoubtedly, the stars of the show are Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper. An abundance of reproductions from the pair greet you in the gift shop upon your exit, although none of which include the artwork shown in the exhibition.

O’Keeffe’s work, Black Abstraction, holds centre stage within room one and reflects the artists state of semi-consciousness when under anaesthesia. It is hard-hitting yet beautiful and leaves its audience lingering before it slightly longer than its neighbouring art works.

Hopper almost has his own section of room three entirely to himself. A single photograph by Richard Way disrupts this, but it only adds to the tension of Hopper’s work impeccably. Hopper’s work marks the end of the exhibition and leaves you feeling isolated, lonely and, in my opinion, in desperate need of an alcoholic beverage!

Hopper cleverly includes one figure in both, Manhattan Bridge Loop and From Williamsburg Bridge which allude towards the alienation and detachment felt within the urbanised world he was living in. This alternative view of America in the 20s is not to be missed.

Visit America’s Cool Modernism at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition is open now until 22 July 2018.

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